Posted tagged ‘automobile history’

The Washington Times Sealed Bonnet Contest of 1907

March 16, 2017

One of 16 commemorative loving cups awarded to drivers who completed the 1908 Washington Times Sealed Bonnet Contest.

Georgia Avenue has played many roles since its creation in 1810. One of its more important functions  has been as a gateway into and out of Washington for commerce and transportation.

So when I found a loving cup that commemorated an early automobile endurance test and was able to fix part of the route as being on Georgia Avenue, I was eager to learn more about the event. One of the things I was able to learn was that the trophy was originally one of sixteen such cups that were created for each of those who completed the course in the time allowed. As the goal of an endurance test is to complete the test, there were no official “winners” of the event, merely those who finished and those that did not.

The loving cup is engraved with details of the event, with the full inscription as follows:

The Times

Sealed Bonnet Contest

December 10, 1907

Driver, Isadore Freund Car, Packard

Perfect Score

Washington, Frederick, Ellicott City

Washington

The inscription provides plenty of clues to help track down the story behind the contest — including that it was sponsored by the Washington Times newspaper, that is was a “Sealed Bonnet Contest”, and that the route was from Washington, D.C., to Frederick, Md., to Ellicott City, MD, and back to Washington.

Sealed Bonnet contests were automobile endurance contests that were intended to draw the public’s attention to the durability and reliability of automobiles. They were called “Sealed Bonnet” contests because seals were placed on mechanical parts and the hood (bonnet) of the car to prove that no mechanical repairs had been made during the contest. While the Washington Times contest was not the first such event in the nation (I know of one that was held in New York on May 4, 1907, and I’m sure there were others), it was the earliest such contest organized in Washington, D.C.

Luttrell Garage on 14th Street, where cars were inspected in preparation for the contest.

As suggested by the cup’s inscription, the contest began in Washington. Specifically, the event began at the Luttrell Garage located at 1711-1713 14th Street, NW, where drivers had their cars inspected and sealed the day before the contest, December 9th. The building which once housed Luttrell Garage still stands today.

From Luttrell Garage, the route followed the Seventh Street Pike (Georgia Avenue) north through Silver Spring, Leesboro, Norbeck, and Olney. Here it turned and went through Laytonsville and Damascus on its way to Frederick. Once at Frederick cars turned around and traveled to Ellicott City through New Market, where again cars changed course and headed back toward Silver Spring where they could pick up the Seventh Street Pike and return to the garage on 14th Street. The map below roughly shows the entire 118 mile course.

Weather played its part to make the contest more difficult than expected. Drivers began the contest at 8 a.m. From Washington to Olney they encountered a driving rain. Upon reaching Olney and turning toward Laytonsville, the drivers encountered what was described as a sea of mud. Twenty five of the twenty six drivers successfully navigated the muddy conditions. While a few drivers were able to pull through the mud without stopping, every driver encountered difficulty as the mud came up to the bodies of the cars. The rain continued nearly until reaching Frederick, where it began to break. By the time drivers neared Ellicott City they encountered clear skies with a bright moon. Upon leaving Ellicott City, drivers were again confronted by bad weather, this time by a squall of snow, hail, and rain.

Twenty six drivers had entered the contest. Remarkably sixteen completed the course without mechanical problems and within the time permitted. Each of these would receive a silver loving cup trophy commemorating their accomplishment. Four cars did not finish due to mechanical failures that included a broken cylinder, a broken spark plug, and a broken axle. Six drivers were disqualified.

The contest captured the imagination of Washingtonians and helped popularized automobiles in the District of Columbia. One result was that automobile dealers reported an unexpected increase in the sales of all types of cars following the event. Capitalizing on their success, the Washington Times held a second Sealed Bonnet Contest on June 9, 1908, which was sanctioned by the American Automobile Association and received wider interest that the 1906 event — including drivers from Baltimore and Philadelphia.

(Photograph of a Mitchell Runabout with two of the sixteen Sealed Bonnet trophies on its running board)

Looking at Historic Garages in Park View

June 17, 2015
1911 real estate ad from the Evening Star identifying a garage at 636 Rock Creek Church Road, NW.

1911 real estate ad from the Evening Star identifying a garage at 636 Rock Creek Church Road, NW.

One of the things that is interesting about Park View’s original development is how automobiles impacted it. The neighborhood south of Otis Place was largely constructed before personal automobile ownership became common place. In fact, in that section of the neighborhood one is more likely to find the occasional stable — a rather fine example being the horse stable that served the Tenth Police Precinct.

The area north of Otis Place was developed by Kennedy Brothers beginning in 1909. Their development (named Princeton Heights) was developed from 1909 to 1917 and coincides with the growth of personal car ownership.

In the District, there were 4,833 residents with registered vehicles in 1914. This rose to 8,009 in 1915. From 1916 to 1919, ownership continued to rise, from 13,118 to 35,400, respectively. By 1920, Washington had one vehicle for every 10.73 residents, ahead of the national average of 14.14 persons per car.

What one learns when looking at how Princeton Heights was built out is that the original houses on the south side of the 600 and 700 blocks of Rock Creek Church Road and the 700 block of Quebec Place were all built with no accommodation for personal vehicles. This began to change as soon as new residents moved into the community. The earliest evidence of a private garage building in the Princeton Heights development is a real estate add from 1911 that features a “garage on rear” for 636 Rock Creek Church Road. Slowly, other homeowners began to construct garages in the rear of their properties too.

In response, Kennedy Brothers began to incorporate attached garages into some of their house designs, with the first being 3640 Warder Street constructed in 1914 (the southwest corner of Warder and Quebec Place). Moving forward, Kennedy Brothers began to include attached garages in their semi-detached corner houses with one notable exception. When building the row of houses from 3664 Park Place north to 608 Rock Creek Church Road, every house in that row contained an attached garage.

For those who purchased houses prior to this change in construction, or who later decided that they wanted a garage afterall, the private detached garage was still an option. Of the four oldest garages in the area, three of them were built by Kennedy Brothers in 1914 and 1915. These were constructed of brick and can be found behind 633, 634, and 624 Quebec Place.

A quick survey of the alleys in the four Princeton Heights blocks between Princeton, Georgia, Rock Creek Church, and Park Place — both in person and on old maps — indicates that there were once about 46 private detached garages in the neighborhood. Of these 18, or roughly 39%, still remain today. Considering that many garages were more modest and not constructed of more durable materials, it is not surprising that many of these are now gone.

Below is a sample of some of the garages that remain.

633 Quebec Place(633 (Rear) Quebec Place, NW. Built by Kennedy Bros. in 1914.)

636 Rock Creek Church Road(This garage is located behind 636 Rock Creek Church Road. Dating to ca. 1911, it has the distinction of being the oldest surviving private garage in the northern part of the neighborhood.)

754 Quebec Place(A more modest garage at 754 Quebec Place, this metal sided garage was built in 1918.)

3639 Warder(Perhaps the nicest brick garage in the neighborhood is this 1917 example behind 3639 Warder Street. This may be the only area garage of Flemish bond construction.)

3637 Warder(Little is known about this metal sided garage at 3637 Warder Street yet, though the search goes on.)


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